There’s a rather lengthy story on how the Canadian “supergroup” called Community Theatre came to be, but I’ll give you the CliffsNotes — or Coles Notes, if you’re Canadian — version. Headless Owl Records formed in 2012 in Canada’s Yukon territory, and was soon seeking advice on marketing, among other things, from You’ve Changed Records. Over time, it just seemed natural that the two labels would team up for a special project. And, so, in October 2013, Headless Owl flew a bevy of Canadian musicians and a visual artist to a cabin in the Yukon to rehearse and record an album (the visual artist, Shery Boyle, provided the cover art). Northern Register is the end product. Community Theatre is made up of musicians Mathias Kom (of the band the Burning Hell), Kyle Cashen (Old Time Machine), Chris Adeney (Wax Mannequin), Michael Feuerstack (who was formerly known as Snailhouse), Colleen Collins and David Trenaman (Construction and Destruction), Steve Lambke (Baby Eagle), Ian Kehoe (Marine Dreams), Jim Kilpatrick (Shotgun Jimmie), and Richard Laviolette. Given all of the talent involved, this disc is pretty consistent and pretty damn good.
This is an important release in that Canadians living to the south (most people in the country live within a two hour drive of the Canada-US border) tend to sometimes forget about the territories to the north, and a lot of music doesn’t exactly emanate from there. Thus, when Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq wins the Polaris Music Prize as she did this year, it kind of comes as a pleasant surprise because I’m willing to bet that not many Canadians had heard of her in the lead-up to the awards gala. So Northern Register serves as a much needed reminder that, hey, there’s music being made in Canada’s Arctic. Granted, the album does get a little saggy in the middle, but repeated listening does smooth out the softness and out-of-placeness of a song such as “Winter Studies No. 4”. There’s a lot of variety on this record, from the Neil Young-esque “Snailhouse” — the song, not the artist formerly known as — to the ‘60s-style pop of “I Think My World Just Got a Little Bit Bigger”. The album straddles the lines between rock, folk and country. So, by all means, track this album down, give it a listen, and be reminded that even though Canada’s North can be dark for a good part of the year, there’s a great deal of light and warmth coming from its music scene.